By Philippe Zygel (AFP) – May 31, 2012
BOGOTA — A reporter freed after 33 days at the mercy of Colombian rebels headed home to Paris Thursday with a letter from his captors for French President Francois Hollande.
Romeo Langlois was kidnapped at the end of April by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during an attack on an army unit he was embedded with to film a counter-drug operation.
The 35-year-old, who works for broadcaster France 24, was released Wednesday in the remote jungle village of San Isidro to a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross that also included a French envoy and a longtime Colombian peace activist.
In the letter, the rebels appeal to "friendly countries, in particular European ones" to "help achieve a negotiated way out" of the Colombian conflict, Langlois said at a news conference hosted by the French Embassy in Bogota before departing for Paris.
While stressing he could not divulge all its contents, he went on to say the letter also contained "public apologies."
"It's the first time they're apologizing," Langlois said of the rebels. "I have the impression the FARC want peace but not just any."
Founded in 1964, the FARC is the oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group in the country with some 9,200 fighters.
The last French national held by the FARC was Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian senator and presidential candidate. She was abducted during her presidential campaign in February 2002, along with her assistant, Clara Rojas.
Betancourt and 14 other hostages -- including three US military contractors -- were freed in an operation by the Colombian military in July 2008.
The FARC renounced the practice of kidnappings for ransom in February but has stepped up attacks on Colombian security forces over the past year in remote parts of the country.
Recalling his time in captivity, Langlois, who received a superficial bullet wound in the arm, said he "thought a lot about" Betancourt's ordeal.
"How could I not have thought about Ingrid's drama in difficult moments?" Langlois told AFP. "Of course I thought about it, very much so."
Langlois, who has reported from Colombia for a decade, also recounted the horrors of his capture on April 28.
"Seeing them arrive was terrifying," Langlois said of his kidnappers, adding that he shouted "don't shoot!" and tried to alert them that he was an unarmed civilian. "I told myself: as long as they don't kill me on the spot."
While he was being held, Langlois -- who on Wednesday said the rebels treated him like a guest -- said he was never chained up in captivity and had tried to stay rational.
"I knew they were going to release me but I thought they would do it quickly in two, three days."
Langlois was due to be reunited with his parents in Paris on Friday.
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